Now that the 2014 Legislature is under way, The Salt Lake Tribune and other news organizations that make up the Utah Media Coalition are closely monitoring proposed legislation that stands to affect open government.
On Tuesday, a House committee declined to act on HB242, a bill sponsored by Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, that would require local governments to cover the first $1,000 in costs for records requests when those records are determined to be primarily in the pubic interest.
Cities oppose the bill as potentially too expensive, and King will work to seek some type of a compromise.
That’s good, as HB242 is legislation the media coalition’s "GRAMA Watch" has awarded a "bright light" rating as a bill that would make Utah government more transparent.
Formed after Utah lawmakers in 2011 unsuccessfully tried to hobble the Utah Government Records Access and Management Act, GRAMA Watch is in its third year, according to a news release.
With the help of attorneys Jeff Hunt and Mike O’Brien, it reviews bills, giving them a "bright light" if they improve government transparency, a "lights out" if they make government less open and a "pale light" if their effect in neutral, the release said.
In addition to HB242, other bills GRAMA Watch is monitoring, according to the release, include:
"Bright light" bills
HR 1 • Sponsored by Republican Rep. Kraig Powell, the bill would modify House rules to prohibit the House from passing legislation that hasn’t been heard by a standing committee, with some exceptions. The intent is to avoid passing bills that haven’t received sufficient scrutiny from legislators and the public, and that makes HR 1 a win for open government.
HB 227 • Also sponsored by Powell, the bill would make public the forms legislators file to direct staff to prepare specific bills. The forms identify the legislator making the request, the date of the request and the short title assigned to the requested legislation. Those forms currently are not public, and bringing them to light allows the public earlier access to the legislative process.
"Lights out" bills
SB 36 • Sponsored by Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, the bill would limit access to voter-registration records to those seeking them for "political, scholarly, journalistic or governmental purposes."
As I wrote recently in this column, journalists, acting on the public’s behalf, want voter-registration records to remain public as a way of safeguarding the integrity of our voting system and protecting against voter fraud. Independent examination and verification of those records is the surest way to determine registered voters are real people who’ve properly registered and are voting in the districts where they live.
SB 114 • Democratic Sen. Gene Davis’ bill would require canal company operators to regularly assess the safety and stability of their canals. Canals at highest risk would be put on a "canal action list" and the company would be required to file a remediation plan with the state. The bill, however, would classify the remediation plans as protected records, meaning that people who live near the canals would not have access to the plans.
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